New winemaker a perfect fit to take over legacy

Six weeks ago this column mourned the passing of a winemaking saint who touched the hearts of wine lovers in two continents. Leon Santoro of Orfila Winery in San Diego County’s Escondido brought to market some of the most outstanding wines ever tasted in Southern California. Judges in major world competitions agreed and presented Orfila with more than 1,300 awards of excellence.
The winery’s owner, Alejandro Orfila of Argentina and a former official for that government, upon the passing of Santoro, placed many calls to this columnist and others who could spread the word and make suggestions for a successor. At best this was a difficult search. Santoro had sharpened his skills in French Rhone Valley varietals like Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne and Syrah, as well as Italian grapes like Sangiovese.
When I learned that the brilliant winemaker from Temecula’s Thornton Winery, Don Reha, had agreed to split his time between Thornton and Orfila, I silently said to myself, “I do believe in miracles.”
Reha had been hired by Thornton six years ago from Northern California where he had a rich tenure with some household name wineries like Fetzer and Cline. All the while he was honing his skills in the Rhone and Italian style of winemaking, a footprint of what made Leon Santoro so popular in the wine community.
In a recent interview with “A Taste of Wine,” Reha echoed that thought. “It’s an honor and a privilege to come in to Orfila after Leon and carry on his legacy that will always remain here. My ideas of winemaking are the same ideas as Orfila had with him. The quality here has been outstanding.” I asked him what favorites he had tasted and he quickly replied, “The Viognier Lotus 67 is perfectly structured for this appellation. It screams for more Viognier and we’ll plant more, as well as the Syrah with its great reputation at Orfila the past 10 years. I will be getting comfortable with what has been done and strive to use more estate grapes that will thrive.”
Orfila Vineyard and Winery is in a very good position and I have no doubt that Reha will be putting his skills in full throttle to make this winery even more successful and take it to greater heights. See the new Web site at www.orfilawinery.com.
Wines to taste now
These premium wines have recently been released and are superior in taste and value. They all can be opened and enjoyed now:
— Caliza Paso Robles 2006 Syrah for $45. A beautiful wine from the west side of Paso. Amazing texture and finish. Big fruity mouth-feel at 16.5 percent alcohol. Winner Best of Class and Sweepstakes Award best red at the recent San Francisco competition. Visit www.calizawinery.com for details.
— Chateau St. Michelle Washington 2005 Col Solare for $75. An acclaimed blend with the hand of one of Italy’s finest winemakers, Piero Antinori of Tuscany. Seventy-one percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 percent Merlot and 4 percent Cab Franc, it has distinct aromas and tastes of black cherry, berry and dark chocolate. A masterpiece. Visit www.ste-michelle.com for details.
— Grgich Hills Napa Valley 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon for $60. Twenty-one months in French Oak with natural organic and biodynamic growing techniques. Superior balance of acid, fruit and tannins. Visit www.grgich.com for details.
— Justin Paso Robles 2006 Isosceles for $62. The ’05 made my top 10 tastings and this release is even better! Isosceles is 86 percent Cabernet, 9 percent Cab Franc and 5 percent Merlot and is always best when aged beyond its release date. Visit www.justinwine.com for details.
— Thornton Temecula Valley 2006 Nebbiolo for $32. The venerable grape of the legendary Italian wines Barolo and Barbaresco but with a value price. Thornton’s Don Reha nails it with a ripeness and maturity matching the Italians. Best of class at the 2008 California State Fair. Visit www.thorntonwine.com for details.
Wine Bytes
— In downtown Los Angeles, the historic San Antonio Winery has a Wine 101 four-course lunch and wines from noon to 3 p.m. April 11. The event will be hosted by Michael Papalia. Cost is $65 per person. RSVP at (323) 223-1401, ext. 8745. Taste Maddalena, Luigi Bosca and Ruggeri Prosecco.
— A wine and dinner salute to Federal Court Justice Gilbert Nares to benefit the North County Bar donor advised fund will start with a reception at 5:30 p.m. April 16. Location is The Crossings at Carlsbad. Orfila Wines will be featured. Cost is $95 per person. Call Mary Cervantes at (760) 758-5833 for details.
— On April 18 at Vintage Wines on Miramar Road San Diego, taste the latest Pinot Noirs from California and Oregon from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The cost is just $5. Call (858) 549-2112 for details.
— The new Charlie Palmer inspired Next Vintage Wine Shop at Bloomingdales, South Coast Plaza Costa Mesa, has a Cakebread Cellars Winemaker Dinner featuring Dennis Cakebread of Napa Valley on April 27. Call (714) 352-2525 for prices and times.

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